CHOCTAW, Oklahoma - A busy, working wife and mom, Kelly Curry runs a tight ship at home. She has to deal with four kids, including twins. And her family of six is sure to make unexpected trips to the doctor or hospital.

"It was very hard for us to set our budget up month to month to make medical a part of that," Curry said.

Curry experienced that hardship firsthand after her severe stomach pain sent her to the ER.

"The co-pay was significantly more than I prepared to give," Curry said. "You're mad. You're scared. You're nervous. You're not sure, especially with a large family. How is this gonna work?"

So she made a call to the hospital's billing office. Curry told them she needed some help.

"They right then took off a 10% discount."

Now she negotiates every medical bill. And it really paid off on a nearly $1,200 tab from a specialist.

"He said if you pay the balance today with a credit card, he'll take $400 off, and they did it," Curry said.

Jennifer Wallis and the staff at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Central Oklahoma help people with debt troubles every day. She says negotiating medical bills is a smart way to save if you do it the right way.

"My motto is it doesn't hurt to ask," Wallis said. "Just be honest, explain to them why. Be very transparent about why you need that amount forgiven."

Wallis says you also want to come prepared.

"If you have a chunk of money you can [pay] right then and just resolve the amount that the account is closed after that point, I think that's a lot more inspiring," Wallis said.

Curry believes good old fashioned manners are always a plus.

"When you're nice, when you're asking questions, when you're filling them in on what your other financial obligations are and how much this is really going to put a toll on your family, they're almost always willing to hear you and help you make that payment work out," said Curry.

Wallis said it's important to get the agreement in writing.  Also, something many patients misunderstand, make sure you follow up with your insurance company to verify everything was filed properly.

How to Negotiate Medical Bills:

*If you have insurance, follow up to make sure everything was properly filed and everything was paid that should have been paid.  This is your responsibility, not the doctor's.

 * If you don't have insurance, let the doctor or the medical office that you are paying out of pocket.  They may have a discounted price to give you.

* Once insurance pays, if you have a hardship, you may be able to work out payments on the remaining balance. Be honest about why you need the debt forgiven.

 

How to Negotiate a Settlement on the Remaining Balance:

* If this items appears on your credit report, you need to know how this will impact your credit report.  Will it be reported as a "settlement" (bad) or "paid in full" (good).

* Get any settlement term in writing. You do not want them coming back later and trying to collect the remaining balance.

* Keep proof the settlement was paid such as a canceled check or zero balance statement

* Any amount forgiven over $500 could have tax consequences because it could be reported as income. Ask how this will be handled.

* Be honest about why you need the debt forgiven. Explain your situation and ask them to work with you.  Don't lie and don't be mean.